Season Preview 2020

The Adelaide Festival has announced its 2020 program, with Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s operatic adaptation of Lars von Trier’s film Breaking the Waves, a trio of dance pieces choreographed to Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, and a choral banquet featuring four choirs and settings of all 150 psalms amongst the highlights.

“It’s our 60th year next year, which is really exciting,” Co-Artistic Director Rachel Healy said at a media briefing with fellow Co-Artistic Director Neil Armfield in Sydney. As such, the Festival will be producing a book (“an extraordinary compilation of images from shows and audiences over the last 60 years,” Healy said, alongside a series of essays) while a documentary will be released on ABC television. “We’ve had a documentary crew following our every move as we pulled this program together over the last nine to 12 months,” Healy said. “They’ve come overseas with us and they’ve been in our homes, and at work, and the great danger with such a crew is that you do forget that they’re there and they end up getting all kinds of very dangerous footage about how programs are pulled together.”

Romeo Castellucci’s Requiem at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence. Photograph © Pascal Victor/ArtComPress

As for the program itself, Romeo Castelluci’s acclaimed Requiem has already been announced. Part of the Adelaide Festival’s partnership with the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence, it will feature soloists Italian alto Sara Mingardo, Italian bass Luca Tittoto, Austrian tenor Martin Mitterrutzner and Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg. “The piece finishes with a real baby, alone and centre stage, surrounded by the remnants of the cast’s exertion during the performance,” Stagg told Limelight when the announcement was first made.

“Happily one of our stage managers is pregnant with twins and so the roles of the babies will be able to be provided, helpfully, by her,” Healy said.

Breaking the WavesSydney Mancasola, Duncan Rock and the cast of Breaking the Waves. Photo © James Glossop

Next year the Adelaide Festival will also present the Australian premiere of American composer Missy Mazzoli’s opera Breaking the Waves, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, based on Lars von Trier’s 1996 film of the same name. “It is not easy to find new operas that command attention, tell their story lucidly and create a powerful, permeating mood. Dark and daring, Breaking the Waves does all this with sensitivity and style,” Zachary Woolfe wrote in The New York Times when Philadelphia Opera premiered the piece. The opera comes to Australia in a new production by director Tom Morris, starring American soprano Sydney Mancasola alongside Australian baritone Duncan Rock and Irish soprano Orla Boylan, performing with the orchestra and chorus of the Scottish Opera.

The Adelaide Festival celebrates Beethoven’s 250th birthday with Lyon Opera Ballet’s Trois Grandes Fugues. “This is a great riposte to River Phoenix’s assertion that you can’t dance to Beethoven,” Healy said. The triple bill features three works – by American choreographer Lucinda Childs, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and French choreographer Maguy Marin – all set to Beethoven’s Große Fuge, Op. 133. “With each of their highly individual settings we hear, see and feel Beethoven’s fugue in fabulously different ways,” Judith Mackrell wrote in The Guardian. Beethoven also takes centrestage in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s The Sound of History – conducted by Sir Christopher Clark and featuring Brett Dean’s Testament alongside Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony – as well as in a number of concerts in the returning Chamber Landscapes series at UKARIA, this year curated by harpist Marshall McGuire.

Beethoven’s music will also feature as one of 150 composers in the 12-concert choral banquet that is 150 Psalms. Four choirs – The Tallis Scholars, Netherlands Chamber Choir, The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir and Australia’s The Song Company – will perform settings of all 150 psalms, spanning 10 centuries of choral tradition. The Psalms deal with issues that are “utterly contemporary”, Armfield said. “The displacement of people because of war, the displacement of people because of drought, the abuse of power, the beauty of the world, gratitude for the life that we have, leadership, power and oppression.”

While the music stretches back to Gregorian Chant, the concerts will also include a number of Australian premieres as well as the world premieres of four newly commissioned psalm settings by Australian composers Elena Kats-Chernin, Clare Maclean, Cathy Milliken and Kate Moore.

A still from Eight. Photo courtesy of Adelaide Festival

Another Australian premiere coming to the Adelaide Festival is Dutch composer Michel van der Aa’s Eight, an immersive virtual reality work starring (virtually) and conceived for Kate Miller-Heidke. The 15-minute experience, which features music sung by the Netherlands Chamber Choir and a journey through a mountainous wilderness, will run throughout the festival (with one person experiencing the work at a time), but is not recommended for individuals who suffer from severe claustrophobia, seizures, epilepsy or extreme vertigo.

The centrepiece of the Adelaide Festival’s theatre offering will be Robert Icke’s The Doctor, a production updating Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 Viennese drama Professor Bernhardi. The piece stars Juliet Stevenson “in an astonishing performance in the central role,” Healy said, as Dr Ruth Wolff, who refuses to allow a priest in to see a 14-year-old fighting for her life – a decision that soon has the public taking sides. “It’s the kind of work you almost don’t want to leave the theatre at interval, it is so extraordinary and absolutely of the moment,” Healy says.

Other theatre highlights include Thomas Gunzig’s Cold Blood from Belgium, Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece from Scotland, Samira Elagoz’s Cock Cock… Who’s There? from Finland and the Netherlands, Mohammad Al Attar, Omar Abusaada and Bissane Al Charif’s Aleppo: A Portrait of Absence from Syria, and from Australia, William Zappa’s The Iliad Out Loud.

In dance, next year’s Adelaide Festival will see the return of DV8 Physical Theatre’s Enter Achilles, which played at the Festival in 1996 (and was later made into an Emmy Award-winning film), here rebooted for the 21st century. Also on the program are Shamel Pitts and Mirelle Martins’ Black Velvet from the USA and Brazil, and two new works by Australia’s Nick Power.

Buŋgul, a ceremonial celebration of Gurrumul’s final album Djarrimirri (Child of the Rainbow), also comes to Adelaide after playing in Perth.


The Adelaide Festival runs February 28 to March 15

The Full Program